Hyde Park, FDR's 128th Birthday and the Rose Garden 1-30-10

Hyde Park, FDR’s 128th Birthday and the Rose Garden

January 30, 2010

Richard J. Garfunkel


Funny thing about Hyde Park on FDR’s birthday, it is always cold and invariably there is snow on the ground. Another year has passed and I continue to make my semi-annual (at least) pilgrimage to Springwood, the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States. There have been many changes since my first trip to this old house and property, once known as Crum’s Elbow, over 50 years ago.


The greatest change has been the addition of the Wallace Visitor’s Center, a few years ago, which is named after Henry Agard Wallace, FDR’s 2nd Vice President, and one of the most popular personages to come out of the New Deal. Like a number of other members of his cabinet, through his long tenure, Wallace was not a Democrat, but was a progressive farm-belt Republican, whose father had been Secretary of Agriculture in the Harding and part of the Coolidge Administration. Henry’s father had a bitter feud with Herbert Hoover while they served in Coolidge’s cabinet, and as a result, according to his family, he died as a result of a heart attack brought on because of their friction. Consequently, Henry Jr. did not support Hoover in 1928 or 1932, when he was opposed and defeated by Franklin Roosevelt.


The Wallace family became the beneficiary of Henry Wallace’s expertise when it came to breeding corn, and his hybrid corn earned the family untold 100’s of millions of dollars. It was some of those dollars that were used to build the visitor center and modernize the Roosevelt Library, Museum and Mansion complex. From my perspective it was a terrific addition and it has served wonderfully as the Library’s auditorium, educational center with its meeting rooms, tour center, and gift shop.


The indoor highlight of the day’s agenda was a discussion between historian and Rutgers University professor Richard Heffner (host and creator of the television show, The Open Mind) and his grandson Alexander Heffner, a student at Harvard, who together have written and published the 8th Edition of Heffner’s A Documentary History of the United States. They were comparing and contrasting the legacy of FDR’s first inaugural, his 100 Days, and the Obama administration’s first year’s efforts. After their colloquy, they took some questions and autographed their 670 page book for many of the visitors to the center.


As the clock approached the hour of three, I joined many of the visitors on a brisk walk to the Rose Garden, where there was a wreath laying ceremony at FDR’s white marble gravesite. In the bitter cold, Ms. Lynn Bassanese, the deputy director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, delivered a brief speech on the 75th anniversary of the creation of Social Security and the WPA. The West Point Cadets, who were the honor guard, braved the 12 degree cold, and enlisted men from the Point saluted FDR’s life with a 21 gun volley. Those poor Cadets, standing at attention in their dress grays, with swords drawn and black plumed 1814 style hats, seemed half frozen, but they did their duty. After the wreaths were placed at the gravesite, a few more remarks were quickly stated, taps was sounded, and every one headed quickly back to the Wallace Center for coffee, tea and birthday cake. My daughter Dana also shares a birthday on this day, along with some other invidious events: Hitler’s ascendency to power in 1933, Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, and the beginning of the Tet Offensive in 1968. But on a more positive note the FDR Birthday Balls were always held on January 30th and the funds to eradicate Infantile Paralysis were raised at those balls!


Time waits for no man, and it is now more years since FDR’s death than what he was allowed to live. But his legacy of progressive reform and decisive leadership in peace, and war, are enduring. Gauging the amount of books, articles, essays and discussions about his life and work that comes out daily, his name and impact will be around for countless generations.


…the family still remains the basis of society as we know it, and it must be preserved as an institution if our democracy is to be perpetuated. If we lose the home we are in grave risk of undermining all those other elements of stability and strength which contribute to the well being of our national life. FDR- 1939


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